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Trial to begin for doctor charged in Jackson death

28 september 2011, 18:41
Doctor Conrad Murray, the late Michael Jackson's personal physician. ©Reuters
Doctor Conrad Murray, the late Michael Jackson's personal physician. ©Reuters
Michael Jackson's doctor Conrad Murray finally goes on trial Tuesday over the self-styled King of Pop's death two years ago from an overdose of a powerful drug, AFP reports.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers will make their opening statements at the Los Angeles Superior Court, where a jury of seven men and five women will decide Murray's fate over the next five weeks.

Murray, 58, faces up to four years in jail if convicted of involuntary manslaughter over the 50-year-old star's death on June 25, 2009, as he was preparing for a series of comeback concerts.

The first witness expected to be called is Kenny Ortega, the producer of Jackson's "This Is It" shows -- clips of which could also be played in court at the start of the trial.

The doctor is accused of giving Jackson an overdose of the powerful sedative propofol -- which Jackson himself referred to as "milk" -- to help alleviate his insomnia at a rented estate in the posh Holmby Hills neighborhood of LA.

Murray has never denied administering the drug -- typically used as an anesthetic during surgery -- to Jackson, but denies having "abandoned his patient" at the fatal moment.

His lawyer Ed Chernoff is expected to argue that the world-famous "Thriller" singer, desperate for sleep, administered more of the drug himself while Murray was out of the room.

The panel who will decide Murray's fate includes six white jurors, five Hispanics and one African American. They include high school graduates, some with a college education and one with an MBA.

Half are Jackson fans -- a 54-year-old juror wrote that she "loved his music as a very young girl, as an adult not so much" -- while one juror, a cartoon animator, once met Jackson.

The trial was originally due in March, but was delayed twice. In that time the judge has rejected a string of requests, notably to let Jackson's former doctors testify, in what the defense hoped would prove he was a drug addict.

On the eve of the trial judge Michael Pastor ruled that footage of Jackson announcing the London comeback shows cannot be shown in court.

Murray's defense lawyers claimed the footage showed Jackson already under the influence of drugs and hence out of control, but prosecutors said the footage was "absolutely irrelevant" and the judge agreed.

Defense lawyer Michael Flanagan said witnesses would give testimony about Jackson's failing health for several months before his death.

"It didn't just develop the last few days before he died," Flanagan said, cited by CNN.

The trial will be televised live, but security will be ratchet-tight at the court in downtown Los Angeles, where fans of the late singer are expected to voice support for justice.

Some fans complain that Grenada-born Murray, who was being paid $150,000 a month by Jackson at the time of his death, faces only four years in jail. He has been free on $75,000 bail since being charged in February 2010.

"I believe the trial is going to be a big disappointment no matter what the outcome is," said Wesley Noorhoff, head of the Legendary Michael Jackson Fan Association, which has members in over 180 countries.

Jackson's family is expected in court, including his mother and father, Katherine and Joe Jackson, as well as several of his siblings who attended six days of pre-trial hearings in January.

But simmering tensions among them bubbled up in July, when Katherine Jackson announced a tribute concert for her son, scheduled in Britain on October 8, a couple of weeks into the trial.

Two of her sons, Randy and Jermaine, immediately criticized the plans as "inappropriate," calling it an "ill-timed event."

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